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How to Write a Literature Review - A Self-Guided Tutorial

All about citation trails

Welcome! Here we'll discuss citation trails: what they are, how to locate them, and how to use them to improve your research. Sometimes the act of following a citation trail is called "citation chaining" or "citation mining."


After reading this guide and doing the included activity, you should:

  • Define what a citation trail is,
  • Distinguish between forward and backward citation trails are, and
  • Use citation trails to find additional resources for your research.

What is a citation trail?

A citation trail is a link from an article or book to a second article or book, connected in some way to the first article. If you find an article that is important or relevant to your work, you should follow the citation trails to find similarly important or relevant articles.

  • A forward citation trail links from the first article to subsequent articles that use information from the first article and cite the first article in a bibliography or list of references. These are usually listed in a database record under "citations."
    A screen capture showing an article with 76 citations in Web of Science
  • A backward citation trail links from an article to articles that were used as resources in the first article. These are usually listed in a database record under "references."
    A screenshot showing 71 reference on an article found through Web of Science

The number of citations an article gets may indicate the relative importance of that article in the field or discipline. Generally, the higher the list of citations, the more that article has been used as a resource for subsequent research, which would suggest that the article's research and conclusions are sound. However, if an article is very recently published (within the last two or three years), it may not have many citations regardless of its value. 

Index finger pointed rightNote: High citation counts are only a proxy for quality. You still need to read and make your own evaluation of the article's credibility and trustworthiness. 

Using Citation Trails to Find MORE Resources (UCML Video Tutorial)

Use an article's citations trails to find more information related to your research. This video will show you how to locate an article's citation trails in Web of Science, Google Scholar, and UC Library Search. (3 min.)

Learn more at the research guide linked below: